America’s golf courses are home to roughly 28,000 club professionals. Of them, 312 qualify for the PGA Professional National Championship, 70 make the cut and 20 get an invite to play with the world’s best golfers in the PGA Tour’s final major of the year, the PGA Championship.
For the third time in nine years, Jeff Martin will be one of those 20. The Warwick resident qualified for the PGA Championship by finishing in a tie for 14th at last month’s Pro National Championship. Martin will be in the field when the PGA hits Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., from August 8 to 11.
The numbers – 28,00 all the way down to 20 – are a reminder of just how special the opportunity is.
“It’s just such a great honor,” Martin said. “There’s 28,000 of us nationwide. To be in the top 20 is pretty amazing. It’s good to be back.”
Martin is the head pro at Norton Country Club in Norton, Mass. Previously he was an assistant pro at Point Judith Country Club in Narragansett and at Warwick Country Club. He grew up in Portland, Maine, but moved to Rhode Island with his wife Sue, who took a job as the general manager for Continental Airlines at T.F. Green Airport. They call Warwick home.
Martin makes the commute to Norton every day. In between lessons, organizing tournaments and handling the day-to-day operations of the course, he finds time to hone his own golf game, and he does it well. Martin has qualified for the PGA Professional National Championship for nine straight years, every year that he’s been a pro.
The next step is never easy.
The PGA Tour reserves 20 spots in the 156-player championship field for its top golf pros. Landing in that top 20 requires a steady week of golf. At this year’s event, Martin finished at even par. Thirty-one golfers were within five strokes of that mark, hot on his heels.
“It’s always a goal when you get to go to the club pro championship, but getting one of those 20 spots is tough,” Martin said. “Even making the cut – it’s a really tough cut to make. You’re going from 312 to 70, so you’re basically cutting a fifth of the field. It’s a challenge.”
Martin has been up to it before. In 2005, he qualified for the PGA Championship at Baltusrol. He also made it in 2008 at Oakland Hills.
Last year, Martin missed the cut at the pro championship. The year before that, he was in ninth place going into the last day, but a rough final round sent him tumbling.
This year, he was optimistic, but still well aware of the uphill battle. He got a reminder at the Massachusetts Open, where he played some good golf – and promptly missed the cut.
Martin traveled to Sunriver, Oregon, for the PGA event. He had a strong first day, shooting 71 to put himself right into contention. A second-round 73 was enough to put him on the right side of the cut line.
On day three, he made his move, carding another 1-under 71. The low round of the day was 2-under, and Martin’s performance shot him up the leaderboard by 25 spots.
He was right where he wanted to be – and then he hit his first shot of the final round. It sailed out of bounds.
“That’s on a hole where you have no business hitting it out of bounds,” he said with a laugh.
Martin wouldn’t let himself flashback to his rough final round from 2011, but the nerves pushed their way in.
“The nerves creep up, especially when you don’t play a lot of competitive golf,” he said. “You lose that edge a little bit.”
But Martin regrouped, and by the time he got to the back nine, he was playing his best golf of the tournament. Sitting in 22nd place, he made a birdie on 15 to get to even par and then finished with three pars.
When the dust settled, he was firmly in the top 20.
“I managed to stick with it,” he said. “I was fortunate to play my best golf on the back nine.”
Now Martin once again will turn his attention to the biggest stage. There are no delusions of grandeur for the club pros who qualify – they’re too busy running their courses – but Martin’s goal is to make the cut.
In his first PGA appearance, he never got comfortable and had two tough rounds. In his second, he felt better and had a solid first day. Two bad holes sent him on a downward spiral the second day.
He would love it if the third time was a charm.
“Making the cut is always a goal,” he said. “It’s a long, tight golf course, so I’m focusing a lot on my short game.”
However it turns out, Martin will enjoy his week in the sun, his week as one of the best golfers in America.
“It’s always kind of amazing to be there,” he said. “You’re a rock star for a week. I’m looking forward to it.”